Credit Cards & Unfair Interest Rate Increases

by Mark Brinker

In the past couple of weeks it’s been in the news that the U.S. Senate is looking into the practices of certain credit card companies. The 2 senators leading this latest investigation are Carl Levin of Michigan and Norm Coleman of Minnesota.

Specifically, they’re investigating the practice of credit card companies raising the interest rate on a cardholder even though that cardholder is paying on time. In other words, one month a person’s interest rate on an outstanding credit card debt might be something manageable like 10%, 12% or 14% then all of a sudden the interest rate jumps up to 25% or 30% even though that person never missed a payment.

Having worked in this industry for over a decade, here’s what I see going on. The credit card companies are constantly monitoring a cardholder’s credit score, the most popular of which is called a FICO score. The moment a person’s FICO score drops, the credit card companies pounce on that opportunity to raise the person’s interest rate.

The credit card company’s argument is that “because a person’s FICO score went down, that person now represents a greater credit risk to the credit card company, therefore they have to raise that person’s interest rate to compensate for the greater credit risk the cardholder now poses”.

If you ask me, I think it’s kind of a sleazy way to justify jacking up someone’s interest rate. But unfortunately this type of thing has been going on for a few years now.

But you might be asking, “How can a person’s credit score go down if they’re paying on time?” Easy. The payment history is only one component of a FICO score.

Another major component of a FICO score is the amount that you owe. So as a person starts to rack up more debt, their increased debt total alone can cause a FICO score to drop — even if that person continues to make their payments on time.

Yes, credit card companies are in business to make a profit and I have no problem with that. But I also believe that any reasonable person would agree that if you pay at least the minimum amount listed on your monthly statement, you are fulfilling your monthly obligation and your credit card company should not be allowed to use obsure “reasons” to justify interest rate hikes. That’s all we’re talking about here.

We’ll continue to follow this story and as soon as there are any further developments we’ll post them here for you.

For more information on topics discussed in this article, please visit the following links:

http://www.myfico.com/CreditEducation/WhatsInYourScore.aspx

http://levin.senate.gov/newsroom/release.cfm?id=288169

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22090817

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